Paul Martin spent his first six years as a pro with New Jersey.
He knows the organization, the expectations, the legacy of success.
So, even though Martin, who signed with the Penguins as a free agent in July, isn't entirely shocked by New Jersey's miseries through the first two months because "they did a lot of things during the summer that you don't see them do," he didn't envision the Devils coming to Consol Energy Center tonight with an 8-16-2 record that places them next-to-last in the NHL overall standings.
"No matter who they've had in the lineup over the years, they've found a way to win," Martin said. "It is early, but I don't think they've had a start like this."
Things have been so bad that the job security of rookie coach John MacLean, a loyal organization man, has become a topic of relentless speculation.
It doesn't help that his team has been playing without goalie Martin Brodeur, a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer, since Nov. 18 because of a bruised right elbow, and its best forward, Zach Parise, since he underwent knee surgery early last month.
While that would be enough adversity for any team, some of New Jersey's high-end talents haven't been producing to expectations, either.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac scored in the Devils' 5-3 loss Saturday in Philadelphia, but, before that game, Zajac had one goal in 24 games, Kovalchuk one in 16 and Elias one in 13.
In light of all that, perhaps it isn't a shock that the Devils, who haven't missed the playoffs since 1996, are in danger of having their season effectively end before 2011 arrives.
"You can't be a top team every year," Martin said. "You strive to be that, but it's tough."
While the Devils are struggling mightily, the Penguins have a chance to make a little positive history tonight.
If they defeat New Jersey, it will be the Penguins' 10th consecutive victory, matching the second-longest streak in franchise history.
They set an NHL record by winning 17 in a row between March 9 and April 10 in 1993, and ran off 10 consecutive victories between Jan. 28 and Feb. 15, 1999.
What's more, the Penguins' 11-0-1 surge is their longest without a loss in regulation since they went on a 10-0-2 roll during the stretch drive two seasons ago.
Columbus defenseman Mike Commodore had a pretty rough time in the Penguins' 7-2 victory at Nationwide Arena Saturday night -- he deflected in the Penguins' first goal, set a screen that made their last one possible and finished the game with a plus-minus rating of minus-2 -- but he was in superb form after it.
Especially when discussing Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who scored two goals against the Blue Jackets and leads the NHL with 46 points.
"We don't see him much anymore, which is great," Commodore said. "Thank God. He can stay in the East. We'll stay in the West.
"He's the best player in the league. It's got to be fun to watch. I know it's not fun for us to play against. The reason why he's the best player in the world -- yeah, he's talented; yeah, he's skilled, but there are other guys who are just as talented and skilled as he is.
"It's determination. It's determination on the puck. He never gives up on a puck. He works hard on the puck and that's why he's the best."
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has won his past eight starts, matching the best streak of his career.
And, while the victory in Columbus was, on some levels, one of the easiest --there's a nice margin for error for a goalie when his team is up by four or more goals for most of the night -- it also was one of the toughest. At least during the first period, when the Penguins ran up a 16-2 edge in shots, along with a 4-0 advantage on the scoreboard. Fleury spent most of those 20 minutes watching what was happening at the far end of the ice and trying to stay warm.
"Sometimes, it's harder to get into the game [when facing so few shots]," he said. "You're back there by yourself, not moving."
Crosby will appear in his 400th NHL game tonight. ... Coach Dan Bylsma, discussing -- rather charitably -- Martin's two unassisted goals in Columbus: "I'm not sure the shots were going through the back of the net."